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GAO: IRS needs to provide more timely, reliable updates of its major IT projects

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Congressional investigators say the Internal Revenue Service needs to do a better job in providing up-to-date, more accurate and transparent information about the costs for key, ongoing  technology projects and when they're expected to be completed.

Since the IRS relies heavily on complex and critical information technology systems to collect more than $2 trillion in taxes and issue more than $300 million in refunds, among other duties, the Government Accountability Office says Congress needs "reliable cost, schedule, and scope information" for better oversight.

Most of the IRS's 19 major IT projects during fiscal year 2013 were within or below cost or schedule goals, according to the just released GAO report.

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Six IT projects were within 10 percent of cost and schedule estimates – meaning there was no significant variance – while eight were significantly below cost or ahead of schedule. Three projects were behind schedule, while two were over budget. Some reasons for the variances included changes to the scope of projects, labor costs or staffing, and budgets, incorrect reporting, procurement issues and additional site visits.

But the reported cost and schedule variances for some of the IT projects aren't always reliable because the IRS hasn't consistently update information for ongoing and completed activities as per Office of Management and Budget and Treasury Department reporting requirements.

"Addressing these issues would help IRS improve the reliability of reported information and provide Congress with a more accurate report of the agency's performance in meeting cost and schedule goals," the report says.

GAO adds the IRS should also provide cumulative cost and schedule information for IT projects, which span several years, rather than just for a single fiscal year. Not only would it be consistent with OMB requirements but also provide a more "meaningful gauge" of how the IRS is effectively managing such projects.

Plus, the IRS sometimes includes projects with zero cost and schedule variances because they're not scheduled to begin until later in the fiscal year. This gives an unrealistic representation of the IRS's performance

Until the IRS develops a more "quantitative measure" to provide a better picture of how it's managing the IT projects, it needs to "qualitatively report" how such projects are progressing compared to what was planned, according to the report.

For more:

download the report, GAO-14-298 (.pdf)

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